Giant Giant Sand: Tucson

The album combines a pleasing unpredictability with a steadiness that supports Gelb's operatic vision.

Giant Giant Sand


US Release: 2012-06-12
Label: Fire
UK Release: 2012-06-11
Label website
Artist website

For the new album Tucson, Howe Gelb has doubled the size of his band, so they've appropriately changed from Giant Sand to Giant Giant Sand. The switch, not in small part because the album centers on the developing expansiveness. The sound is wider than might be expected, although there's nothing here that shouldn't feel out of place to a Giant Sand fan. Conceptually, the album with its subtitle “A Country Rock Opera”, stretches out not only by having a loose narrative construct, but by pushing itself for as long as it can hold up, and maybe a little extra.

The band's strength over the course of the long album lies in its ability to make so many styles cohere. Giant Giant Sand never strays too far from its Southwestern base, but it stuffs the disc with jazz, rockabilly, folk, blues, and more. If the album's main character does travel too far on his road trip, the band makes sure it covers at least a couple continents, and they're comfortable any place they find themselves.

“Forever and a Day” provides one of the album's highlights, shifting both tempo and styles several times as our protagonist tries to figure out exactly how to leave. There's an emotional difference between “Good luck, suckers / I'm on my way” and “Adios, losers”, brought about by the latter's following a shift to light psychedelia. There's something amiss here, but we're not allowed to dwell on it for long. It's a nice hitch in the song that keeps listeners off balance without losing momentum.

The group keeps the energy enough to keep the album moving, even when working in juxtaposition to Gelb's dry delivery, but the album doesn't rely on its regular rollicking approach. Tracks like “Love Comes Over You” deliver a simple beauty that gains power from its surroundings. Vocalist Lonna Kelley delivers a memorable, controlled vocal on the jazzy “Ready or Not”, which both foreshadows a later realization and leads nicely into the alley song “Mostly Wrong”.

That sort of sequencing pays off throughout the album. With its long running time (around 70 minutes), Tuscon needs artful construction not just on each track but across the whole. It's unfortunate, then, that it stumbles late in its run. “Recovery Mission”, on its own, is an important, emotional song. It stems not from the album's narrative, though, but as a reaction to the 2011 shooting of US Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. The song, complete with children's vocals, responds effectively to tragedy, and while it's not out of place on the album, it seems to lose the thread a little, not only lyrically, but with the musical loss of energy.

It's worth getting through, though, because key album moments are tucked in behind it, including the Tom Waitsian slag heap and the cumbia-influenced “Caranito”. Thematically, “Not the End of the World” makes a necessary epiphany, the sort you might have in classy bar. “Out of the Blue” provides an emotionally satisfying conclusion, even considering the somewhat ambiguous epilogue of “New River”. Tuscon requires patient listening, but aside from that one vital misstep, the album keeps moving. It's combined a pleasing unpredictability with steadiness that supports Gelb's operatic vision.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.